Selling your house from under you: the latest Nigerian scam
Last time you signed a real estate contract did the agent ask for your driver’s license? Probably not, but from now on that’s likely to be a more regular request. Those wacky guys who brought you the emails from Isabella Caromel (lone survivor of a tsunami with US$10.6m she wants to share), the tales of surviving insurgent rebellion with millions that need urgent transfer, and other innovative scams, are up to new tricks.
Last year a Perth property owner contacted an agent, listed a house for sale, signed an offer and received the proceeds on the subsequent $485,000 sale. Only one small hitch – it wasn’t their house. And this month a $1million Sydney apartment was listed for auction in the same style of scam, this time identified before its sale. Needless to say the legal gurus around Australia have been grappling with how this can happen. Could someone pretend to be you? While you’re on holidays or for your investment property? How much info would they need to give an agent to convince them they were the owner? The scary truth is it’s dead easy.
Many of our seller clients are interstate (Brisbane’s inner city has lot of NSW investors for example) and we never meet them. They give us their name and if it matches the title search we proceed. Their contact details are no guarantee as an email address can be set up in anyone’s name, no check needed. We don’t have anything to verify their signature against on a listing authority or contract of sale. So you’ll understand why identity confirmation is becoming more important in our process.
The lawyers who handle conveyancing have a few more challenges as that’s where the money changes hands and they’re the last gatekeepers. Especially if there’s no mortgage and no bank checking the transaction. It’ll be interesting to see what changes we see as a result of the scam.
In the meantime maybe Isabella will share some of her inheritance with that unlucky Perth property owner.